Greg Elfrink

October 31, 2016

Google is an ever-changing ocean of algorithms, updates, and optimizations, all of which herald the doom of SEO with every unexpected wave.

However, most of these cries about the death of one type of SEO are usually mistaken. With every algorithm update, swathes of sites get hit or even de-indexed, but many others survive. In fact, SEO pros who pay attention to where the algorithm is heading often see significant ranking gains in the SERPs (search engine results page) when they focus on higher quality content with more natural backlink profiles.

Penguin was one of two big changes (the other being Panda) that created huge controversy within the SEO community. Both updates caused thousands of black hat sites to fall off the face of the earth. So it is understandable that someone in SEO is going to be pretty concerned about these two vicious virtual animals.

Now that Penguin 4.0 has rolled out for real, it’s time to get reacquainted with what this update is actually going to mean for you.

What is this Penguin 4.0 Thing all About?

On April 24th, 2012, the landscape of search engine rankings changed forever.

That is when the first Penguin update officially rolled out. The point of the update was to get rid of websites that were gaming Google’s algorithm by using black hat SEO techniques. Black hat techniques usually involve use of spam and typically break the terms of service that Google has for its webmasters.

From a business standpoint, this update was Google’s attempt to serve better content to their customers — the actual people who are searching for answers to their questions. Alas, for many in black hat SEO, it sounded the death knell for their businesses.

Penguin originally worked by demoting entire websites based on their spammy links.

A lot of people who knew very little about SEO got hit by the update too. One potential cause for this was people not knowing who they were hiring for their SEO. Employees or contractors may have used the prohibited black hat strategies, or site owners may have been getting bad SEO advice and doing some black hat themselves.

This update created a whole new strategy for black hat marketers, where they assailed their competition’s websites with massive amounts of spam links. While the update meant it was now hard to rank their own websites using spam, many found it quite easy to use mass spam linking software to destroy their competitor’s websites, making it much easier for them to rank.

In this way, even completely innocent people were getting their websites irrevocably damaged through the changes wrought by Google’s update.

To solve this issue, Google launched the Disavow Tool. The Disavow Tool allowed webmasters to select which backlinks they wanted counted towards their website. While a laborious and tedious process (which created a whole ecosystem of outsourced disavow VAs), a webmaster who was attacked by a bunch of spam links now at least had some recourse to recover from the algorithm punishing them.

Yet, as many will tell you, the disavow tool can be a double-edged sword for the untrained.

After four years and several updates, the newest version of Penguin’s algorithm, seeks to remedy what is now an age-old issue for those fighting for competitive SERP positions.

Penguin 4.0 — Demote Vs. Devalue & The Final Breath of the Disavow Tool

One of the major differences between Penguin 4.0 and previous versions, is that instead of demoting an entire domain that has spammy or low quality links, the update now simply devalues them.

It sounds like a simple vocabulary distinction, but the difference is very important here.

Demoting means that the algorithm actually pushes the website to lower rankings. A website that was on page one for a competitive keyword might suddenly find itself on page 50 overnight. In the process all the traffic, traction, and revenue that the keyword has been faithfully providing to the webmaster is lost.

Devaluing means that Google is going to ignore these spammy links. Instead of giving a webmaster negative value, it will not register any value at all. You might lose some page positions, but the idea is that the update will not punish webmasters for having spammy links. Rather, it simply won’t recognize those links anymore.

This is good news for those who hate the disavow tool and the tedium of using it.

Since Penguin won’t be recognizing those links, you won’t really need to go and remove them yourself anymore.

While the Disavow Tool has become far less useful, it is still worth noting that poor links that are devalued can eventually still count against your website. What some SEOs in the field, such as Matt Diggity, are seeing is that there is a threshold.

Matt Diggity, from Diggity Marketing, had this to say on the Penguin 4.0 update regarding the devaluation (rather than demoting element) of spammy links: “This is the most interesting aspect of this update. And it’s true. I’ve run disavow on seven different sites with negative SEO spam and none of them have an effect. Spam seems to be truly ignored.”

He then went on to talk about how this factors into manual reviews, which is when Google has an actual team of people looking over your site to determine if it is spammy or not: “What I’ve seen regarding this topic: if a website accumulates enough of these “devalued” links, then it hits a threshold, and a site is reviewed. I’ve noticed this on quite a few test cases since the update.”

While the Disavow Tool has become less useful, there is some speculation that it will still be useful in the future, although much less so than with previous updates.

What Other Things is the Penguin Doing?

According to SemRush, there are a few other changes to watch out for, such as:

  • Penguin is real time now rather than running intermittently
  • It is now part of the core Google algorithm rather than a separate filter
  • Penguin will become increasingly granular

What does this mean for you?

Traditionally, the Penguin update only ran now and again. That meant that people breaking the Penguin rules usually had a short window in which they could maximize earnings — potentially using black hat strategies or tactics that are not exactly Penguin friendly. This has been especially true over the last few months, since the Penguin update hadn’t run for a long period of time and some were even speculating it would never run again.

Now that it’s embedded in the main Google algorithm, it is running constantly. The rules that govern how Penguin deals with spammy links will now apply 24/7 rather than intermittently. It is part of the core program, which means Penguin’s changes to the algorithm will only become more and more well defined. Thus it pays to play to Penguin, as it will only become more important.

The great news is that for every major algorithm change (and sometimes even for small ones), many SEOs just throw their hands up and quit. This usually leaves an opening for the cunning entrepreneur who keeps plugging away and making the appropriate changes to their organic traffic strategy.

In short, there will be less competition and more potential for your website to start ranking for harder keywords that were once occupied by competitors using Penguin-unfriendly strategies.

It’s worth keeping an eye out for this as the update continues and more SEOs report their ranking stats. Anything that can help Google “help you” should always be considered, and you certainly don’t want them doing the opposite of “helping you,” as they have done to many websites. Google can be a fickle friend, after all. In fact, they have rewarded many big websites in the past that blatantly broke their rules.

It pays for us little guys to play it safe, if we can.

What Does This Mean for SEO-Based Websites We Are Selling?

Our marketplace is full of businesses whose primary marketing strategy is SEO.

Whether they’re Amazon affiliate sites or ecommerce stores, SEO often plays a crucial role in gaining new traffic, leads and sales conversions for these business.

How did our websites fare?

One word — unaffected.

We go through a pretty rigorous vetting process, and that process is constantly being fine-tuned. It gets better and better. Nowadays, when a seller tells us they don’t use a Private Blog Network (PBN), it won’t take long for us find out if they were lying.

(Disclaimer: Not that there is anything wrong with a PBN, many of our websites use them. If a seller lies to us about it, however, they’ll be thrown off our marketplace. We need to be able to vet that PBN as well, and make sure there isn’t anything strange or spammy that might cause unwarranted risk to the potential buyer. If you lie to us about one thing, what else are you trying to hide? Right?!)

Likewise, we look for extremely spammy backlink profiles. In our review process, there often comes a point when a profile is just too shady for us to accept the site into our marketplace. We only want the best of the best, after all.

We’re laser focused on the win-win-win.

Our sellers win with big paydays, our buyers win with good deals on legitimate businesses, and we win because people trust us to come back over and over again.

Here are some examples of businesses that survived the update:

  1. Amazon affiliate site in the technology niche
  2. Affiliate site in the transportation & consumer electronics niche
  3. Amazon affiliate site in the sports & equipment niche
  4. Amazon affiliate site in the transportation niche

These are standard affiliate niche sites that so many blogs talk about constantly in our space. It is also the most traditional type of business that people claim is “dead” whenever an SEO update happens.

You don’t have to look far to find people saying affiliate marketing is dead. Often the people saying this are trying to sell you a course, or they are struggling — perhaps to the point where they never really made money to begin with.

In short, affiliate marketing is alive and well.

The websites we have vetted, which are earning good incomes from search engine traffic, are also well and alive. Since our process is very thorough (to the point where we sometimes even hire SEO consultants that do their own empirical testing), we are able to put websites on our marketplace that are often unaffected by these Google updates.

That isn’t to say there is zero risk here, as you never know what might happen with Google’s algorithm, and buying an online business is always a risky endeavor (though it also has the potential for very high rewards).

Our vetting process is getting better every day, offering website buyers one of the best and largest marketplaces around where they can buy legitimate online businesses and digital investments.

The Key to Avoiding Getting Slapped By Google is Due Diligence

Remember, the longer a website’s history, the more likely it is to survive the array of cute animals that Google throws at it.

Now that the hype of Penguin 4.0 is over, check out our marketplace for our current listings.

They’re updated every month with their latest traffic stats and earnings to help you with your due diligence process.

Taking advantage of the best-practice processes we employ will allow you to avoid ever having a painful encounter with a hummingbird, a panda, or in this case…a penguin.

Photo Credit: OndrejProsicky


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  1. […] If your website relies heavily on SEO, it is good to go through your backlink profile now and again to make sure everything is kosher. You want to use something like Google’s Disavow Tool to clean up any nefarious or spammy looking links. (Though this might not be as important as it used to be, according to the new Penguin update) […]

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